Question: “I’ve done two marathons and this year will be my second Triathlon season! My main issue seems to be being prone to shin splints. A few people have recommended I get a foam roller. Is it worth getting one?”
By Ruth Mills
‘Shin splints’ is a general term which is frequently used to describe pain around the front part of the lower leg. It encompasses a number of different conditions and it would be important to get assessed, properly diagnosis and thus an individualised treatment plan put in place. Some of the possible sources of the pain could be bone (tibial stress reaction or fracture), muscle (tightness off muscles on front of tibia) or a build up of pressure in the compartment of the lower leg (compartment syndrome).
It seems you have done alot of running in the past year with two marathons completed. It may be worth reviewing your training diaries and seeing if you allowed your body adequate recovery between races and training. Recovery does not mean complete rest after a marathon but rather a period of offloading the body for a period of time until the body’s tissues have had a chance to regain their elastic, load absorbing properties. For triathletes this should be no problem as means a reduction in running means more focus on bike or in pool. Running is the hardest of the events on the body due to its loading nature. In addition to analysis of your training programme it is worth assessing muscular imbalances and deficits in other areas of your body. Although the pain is felt in the shin this may simply be the victim and the culprit or true cause of the pain may be arising from issues elsewhere in the body (e.g. the inability to control the pelvis on one side leading to increased loading on the opposite lower limb).
So with all that said onto the issue of foam rolling. Foam rolling can prove useful as a form of self massage or what is termed ‘self myofascial release’. Myofacial pain is the pain that arises when muscles or their surrounding fascia become tense, develop tight spots (called trigger points) and are dysfunctional. If following assessment it is found that you have tightness in the muscular of the lower limb or even elsewhere using tools to reduce this muscular tension may be an important part of the treatment programme. Foam rolling is not usually a pleasant experience as the pressure exerted by the roller needs to be strong enough to stimulate the muscle or tight spot to release. It is like a really deep tissue massage. The correct technique is to roll the limb along roller and when a particularly tight spot is felt exert extra pressure over the area…not usually enjoyable but can be quite effective. The more you foam roll usually the more you can tolerate and won’t find as painful after a few sessions.
If foam rolling while carrying an injury such as ‘shin splint’ my advice would be to avoid foam rolling over an already sore and irritated area. It is probable that there is some inflammation present around the sore shin and thus foam rolling may simply irritate this further. In this case ice regularly for 10 minute intervals. Foam rolling surrounding calves, thighs and hips musculature would still prove beneficial (focusing in on where the most muscular tension is). Foam rolling is good to use regularly as part of a mobility routine to keep the muscles supple and in good condition.
Prices and qualities of foam rollers vary greatly so if you are looking to invest it is worth shopping around. Generally the harder the better!
Ruth Mills is a chartered physiotherapist with Sports Med Ireland
Click HERE for Sports Med Ireland
The information offered by NewToTri.com is done in good faith and is not to be interpreted as an instruction. Always use common sense and consult medical and sports professionals before undertaking any new forms of exercise